That little butterfly-shaped gland in your neck influences nearly every cell and organ in your body. Because of this, thyroid problems can cause more than 300 different thyroid symptoms. So how do you know if you have an underactive thyroid? Here are 10 hypothyroidism symptoms that suggest a thyroid problem.
Is it the flu? Getting older? A little depressed?
Thyroid problems manifest differently for everyone. So does the severity of the thyroid problems.
In this post, we’ll focus on hypothyroidism signaling an under-active thyroid or “low” thyroid. This thyroid problem is often associated with Hashimoto’s Disease.
Let’s flash back to 1998 to take a look at my hypothyroidism story. I’m pretty much the poster child for the top 10 most common hypothyroid symptoms. So we’ll tick them off, one at a time.
Hypothyroidism Symptom #1 — Extreme Fatigue
I’d just given birth to my first baby, Ben. Colicky. Never slept. Adorable. Supremely lovable.
But instead of bonding with my newborn, I felt like a zombie. We’re talking Total. Utter. Exhaustion.
And I know what you’re thinking. New baby. Colicky. No sleeping. Maybe even a little postpartum depression. Anyone would be exhausted!
No. This was different.
I’d never had a baby before. But this wasn’t your typical just-gave-birth-totally-exhausted kind of feeling. I just knew it — deep in my bones.
So I visited the doctor. I asked her to order blood work tests for thyroid problems. And she laughed at me.
“What do you expect? You just had a baby,” she proclaimed.
It’s like I remember it in slow motion.
“There is something wrong here. I know it.”
I stood my ground. I’ll keep reminding you: be your own health advocate. No one knows your body like you do.
The doctor humored me (and I discovered later that I was very lucky she did). Most conventional doctors won’t order what they consider to be “unnecessary” tests.
A few days later, the doc called and apologized. My TSH levels were so crazy high that the lab tech wondered how I even made it to the medical office.
Bottom line: If you have fatigue that you would consider to be “extreme” or “disruptive,” it could be a symptom of hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism Symptom #2 — Unexplained Weight Gain or the Inability to Lose Weight
My baby weight melted off soon after I left the maternity ward. Within a week after delivering Ben I was back in my “regular” clothes.
And then, without warning, the scale jumped 20 pounds.
I blew up, seemingly overnight. And trust me, when you’re 5’3”, twenty pounds translates to a couple of extra pant sizes.
The doctor ultimately diagnosed me with Postpartum Thyroiditis. That means I started as hyperthyroid (which caused the rapid weight loss) and then I swung to hypothyroidism (which is why I packed on 20 pounds out of nowhere).
About a quarter of the women who develop Postpartum Thyroiditis segue into permanent hypothyroidism.
Lucky me 🙂
The doc prescribed Synthroid, which is the knee-jerk prescription reaction for conventional medicine. For a while, I felt so much better. Even semi-normal.
Two years passed and then baby Emily arrived. I was working full-time while raising a baby and a toddler. I was once again bone tired (duh), but other thyroid symptoms started to crop up.
Bottom line: If you have unexplained weight gain or the inability to lose weight, it could be a symptom of hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism Symptom #3 — Stomach Pain
Daily debilitating stomach aches plagued me. My gut was obviously screwed up.
Many people with hypothyroidism suffer stomach pain, bloating, digestion issues, and IBS-like symptoms.
You may have heard the term, “leaky gut,” also called “intestinal permeability.” It’s super common with hypothyroidism.
Leaky gut happens when the junctions in your intestines are no longer tight, caused by anything from food sensitivities to parasites or other unwelcome invaders.
Those “loose” junctions are slacking on the job as gatekeepers. They’re supposed to prevent toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles from entering the bloodstream.
Your gut microbiome consists of billions of bacteria, some good and some bad. When the bad guys overrun the good guys, trouble starts.
Some days the pain was so intense I worried I couldn’t make it to my car after work.
Thyroid symptom #4 was partly to blame…
Hypothyroidism Symptom #4 — Chronic Constipation
Most people prefer not to pontificate about poop (young boys excluded), but irregularity isn’t fun.
Hypothyroidism can cause constipation through the slowing of peristalsis, the movement of food and waste through our intestines.
Due to disrupted hormone signals, the “waves” of movement can be slower and less powerful, leading to constipation.
Not only was I not “going” daily, but many days would go by between movements.
Ugh. Talk about bloat.
Bottom line: Chronic constipation isn’t a surefire sign of hypothyroidism, but it’s definitely something that should be considered if you’re experiencing other symptoms on this list.
Hypothyroidism Symptom #5 — Brain Fog
Ever feel like you can’t think straight? Like you’re in a perpetual haze?
That’s brain fog.
Brain fog causes you to forget stuff. Not just where you put your keys, but simple words that should be at the tip of your memory bank.
When I was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism, my brain fog was so bad that I was afraid to drive a car. I worried that my brain wouldn’t send signals to my feet to hit the gas or brake pedals in time.
Later, when the Synthroid stopped working, I just didn’t feel “sharp.” I literally felt like I was losing my “wits.”
My focus disappeared. I struggled to get through the workday and to make decisions.
This led to…
Hypothyroidism Symptom #6 — Depression
Many doctors misdiagnose thyroid problems in favor of suggesting depression. They send you on your way, with Prozac or another SSRI prescription. Case closed.
Your “blue” mood may be a thyroid symptom. But of course, who wouldn’t feel depressed when you’re bone tired, suffer stomach pain and brain fog, and can’t zip up your pants?
Depression brings its friends along for the ride — irritability, anxiety, impatience, and annoyance. That impacts your stress levels and happiness and also makes a huge impact on your relationships.
Your demeanor affects everyone around you. Kids and marriages suffer.
To cope with the depression, I sipped my morning coffee with a side of Synthroid and Prozac.
Please note: Always take thyroid medication on an empty stomach, at least a half-hour before any other meds, supplements, food or even coffee. Trust me — it makes a huge difference.
Hypothyroidism Symptom #7 — Skin and Nail Problems
As if all of the previously stated symptoms weren’t enough… your skin and nails show signs of hypothyroidism.
My skin became dry, flaky and itchy. I didn’t recognize myself when I looked in the mirror. Wrinkles became more prominent. Weird rashes with raised red and itchy bumps and blotches popped up for no apparent reason.
I used to do my own manicures to show off my once long and sturdy nails. They developed ridges, turned brittle, and began to split and break easily.
And then to top it off…
Hypothyroidism Symptom #8 — Hair Loss
Hair clogging up your shower drain? Feel like you’re shedding? Thinning hair is a common symptom of hypothyroidism.
Here’s what happened to me. My once thick and lush (though frizzy!) hair started falling out with scary speed. When would it stop?
Your hair is a decent barometer of your health and losing your hair is a telltale sign of hypothyroidism. When your body is under stress or in crisis, hair cells can shut down.
The stress of an underactive thyroid causes hair follicles to go into their resting phase and temporarily halts hair growth. Your body tries to redirect energy to where it’s needed most.
Bottom line: Losing your hair? Get yourself tested for hypothyroidism. Especially if you notice that you’re losing the outer third of your eyebrows.
Hypothyroidism Symptom #9 — Cold Intolerance
I happen to always be warm (I’m a woman of a “certain” age — hello hot flashes!). But more often than not, people with hypothyroidism feel constantly chilled.
They’re the ones wearing sweaters and jackets when others are sweating in the heat and humidity.
The thyroid regulates metabolism and therefore impacts your body temperature. A sluggish thyroid often causes you to bundle up even on warm summer days.
I personally experience what I call “popsicle toes.” Freezing piggies all the time.
I never go to bed without socks.
Bottom line: If you are chronically cold or have chronically cold extremities, a thyroid problem should be a consideration.
Hypothyroidism Symptom #10 — Muscle and Joint Aches
Here’s another misdiagnosis waiting to happen. You go to get checked out for muscle and joint pain and the doc blames your symptoms on aging.
“Your muscle and joint pain and stiffness are a normal part of the aging process,” they say.
Muscle and joint pain caused by hypothyroidism can occur all over the body and is called “hypothyroid myopathy.” It ranges from mild to severe and most commonly affects the legs, feet, arms, hands, and back.
Low thyroid levels can also cause cramping, stiffness, and weakness, sometimes leading to carpal tunnel syndrome or frozen shoulder.
Hypothyroidism-related fluid retention, usually around the ankles and feet, can also cause pain.
I was historically what I call a “fast walker,” blowing by everyone on the sidewalk toward my destination. Suddenly, I lost my speed and was walking “funny” because of muscle aches and stiff joints.
Bottom line: If you have aches and pains, especially in combination with others symptoms on this list, a thyroid problem should be a consideration.
Have any of these hypothyroidism symptoms? Here’s what you should do next…
Were you able to check off any of the thyroid symptoms we covered? Some may be tolerable and sneak up on you. Others can be devastating, impacting your quality of life, your relationships, and your livelihood.
One thing is for sure – get tested.
And that doesn’t mean just TSH blood work. At the very least, request a thyroid panel also including Free T3, Free T4, and thyroid antibodies.
If Hashimoto’s is suspected, make sure your doctor orders a thyroid ultrasound.
The longer you leave a thyroid problem untreated, the worse it gets.
As we continue with our hypothyroidism series, we’ll explore Hashimoto’s Disease – the autoimmune condition that causes hypothyroidism – in more detail. Plus, we’ll cover natural thyroid treatments like nutrition and lifestyle modifications.
Hypothyroidism isn’t fun. But with the right strategies, you can begin to take your life back.